I grew up on the back roads of a small town in Tennessee. My childhood was spent getting lost on winding trails and chasing frogs down shallow creeks. At dusk the sunset would call me home, and every night I would leave dirt-covered foot prints behind me. My days were spent climbing trees, exploring old barns, and hiking trails until I found myself so deep in the woods that I had no idea where I was. And when I finally found my way home, I would pass out from exhaustion after a home-cooked meal, and dream about the adventures that the next day might bring. That was childhood in Tennessee for me and everyone I knew.
Like so many people, as I got older I convinced myself that I was too cool for a small town and a southern state. I craved distance and adventure, and I swore that I would leave the town that I grew up in, far behind in the rear view mirror. And for a while I did just that; I took off and traveled. But something deeper than my love of a cold, umbrella-clad drink on a warm beach called me home. I haven't seen every corner of the world but I've seen quite a few, so I promise you that my Tennessee residency is a voluntary choice. It was on a long list of many options when it came to considering where to raise my family, but in the end, all the others were reduced to vacation destinations. Though I have loved them all, my heart has always been in Tennessee.
Now that I've got kids of my own, I can't help but to feel a little nostalgic about raising them in the same place where I, myself, was raised. I get nearly giddy when planning trips to the mountains and revert to an almost childlike state while daydreaming about teaching my boys how to roast the perfect marshmallow over a campfire. There's just something so whimsical about the south. From the beautiful seasons, to the food, to the awe-inspiring scenery, you don't have to look far to fall in love. And while I can't wait to dig my toes in the sand and boogie board with my boys on the beach one day, I'm more than content to raise them in Tennessee. I may be a bit biased, but it's kind of awesome out here.
We've Got Four, Equally Beautiful Seasons.
Watching the seasons pass in Tennessee is like reading your favorite book. As each day passes, another page turns. Witnessing the story of mother nature unfold every day is simply a beautiful thing. From the painted trees of the fall, to the beautiful blooms of spring, to the lush trees and rolling fields in the summer time, Tennessee seasons are nothing short of inspiring. Sure, summers are humid and winters are a bit icier on occasion, but a few days of unfair forecasts is well worth the price we pay for every other day in between. Literally any day of the year has the potential for a perfect forecast. It's been 65 degrees all week here as I'm writing this and it's the middle of winter. That's just how it goes here.
Speaking Of Seasons: Football
I don't know if you're aware, but football is kind of a big deal in the south. The SEC is no stranger to playing in National Championships and in Tennessee football is a family affair no matter which team you support. Of course, rivalries do exist but they're part of what makes watching football so damn fun. I've been keeping up with the University of Tennessee since before I could even clothe myself independently; I've been trash talking my friends that blindly support our rival teams since before I could count. It's a rite of passage, really.
Every View Is A Great View
In a place speckled in mountains and running with rivers, where fields are gold and sunsets are orange (proving further that God is a Vols fan), there really is no bad view in Tennessee. We've got everything from cityscapes to mountaintops so whether you prefer the night lights or stars, you'll never go to bed disappointed in the company of one of mother nature's finest accomplishments.
There's So Much To Do (No, Seriously, So Much)
If you love the outdoors, you can definitely come sit with us. We fish, we hike, we camp; we load our canoes with our best friends and a case of beer and float down the river while marveling at nature and laughing at stupid jokes. We sing karaoke in dusty bars and shamelessly cheer on the Titans during their eternal drought. If we didn't have to be at work so early, we'd be at a concert every night. And if it weren't for, you know, freezing temperatures, we'd be on a pontoon boat year round. Basically, our kids will never get bored. Like, ever.
We Keep The Faith
Southerners are in tune with their spiritual sides and faith plays a guiding role in raising our children to be morally sound. Whether you identify yourself as a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or anything else on the spiritual spectrum, the goals are all the same, and we believe in them wholeheartedly here in Tennessee: Do good unto others (and eat delicious food on all holidays).
Life certainly isn't always easy. Feelings get hurt, hearts get broken; We lose the people we love and get lost amid an often unpredictable world. And while all of that is inevitably going on, being surrounded by supportive, encouraging, spiritual people helps to ground any fear or negativity that might arise. In Tennessee, those people could be perfect strangers. We're a community and we support each other no matter the religious affiliation. Many here believe that no matter which route you take, we're all headed to the same place, and we're happy to get there together.
We Know How To Have Fun With Water
Have I mentioned the surplus of lakes and rivers around here? They're host to some of the greatest, most invigorating sports. From wake boarding and skiing, to kayaking and noodling (yes, that's a real thing) if there's a body of water around, it's being used for a lot more than just swimming. In fact, I (along with most kids) learned how to do a lot more than just swim in these rivers and lakes before I was even in preschool. And if I'm being honest, my kids probably will too. As a typical Tennessean, I'd take a boat over a BMW any day.
Biscuits And Chicken And Dumplings, Oh My!
Southern cooking is serious, y'all. Our mothers and grandmothers were taught from a very young age to cook from scratch, to reap the benefits of the land and make a meal out of love and whatever was in season to feed their families. It's a source of great pride for them and I'm definitely not complaining about it. It's a time-consuming process to cook from scratch but it's almost as if you can taste the love in every bite. It makes every flour-covered apron and dish-filled sink completely worthwhile. Men and women in Tennessee treat cooking like a sport, except in this game everyone wins.
Umm, Can We Talk About The Music? The Music, You Guys.
Despite how ABC's Nashville might depict the actual city, there's a lot more than boots and banjos around here, and "bro country" is not our fault. Some of the best music can be found here, not just in arenas housing rock stars, but in dive bars and corners pubs playing for tips under the city lights. Tennessee is dripping with musical talent. Some of the greatest song writers in the world call the Volunteer State home and it's become a staple in the schedules of many big artists touring the country. Country music is great, but it's merely one song on a long list of hits for Music City.
It's A Great Place To Get Schooled
With the Lottery Scholarship enabling a slew of new grads an opportunity to seek a degree, Tennessee has no shortage of educational options for prospective students to choose from. Also, The Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation recently started a scholarship and mentoring program called The Tennessee Promise, which gives graduating high school seniors the chance to attend a two year community college or technical school tuition free. If you've got your sights set on a more advanced degree Tennessee has got more than just a few great schools offering bachelors degrees, masters degrees, and beyond. Vanderbilt, Belmont, The University of Tennessee (and it's many locations), and Middle Tennessee State University are among the many universities that offer advanced degrees.
It's One Of The Friendliest Places In America
Recently, Huffington Post named Nashville one of the friendliest cities in America. Well, it's not just Nashville that keeps it cordial. The entire state is full of friendly faces. I've been told more than just a handful of times, by complete strangers while traveling, that Tennessee is one of their favorite places on the planet because of good nature of its people. What can I say? We know no strangers and we hug it out with everyone from our mailman to accountant. We've got everyone's back, including yours.
Images: Brent Moore/Flickr; Giphy(10)